The most intriguing Story of O—Oliver Miller, the Detroit Pistons' new big man and the self-styled Big O—is the scale tale from his rookie year with the Phoenix Suns. As it is often told late at night around NBA juice bars, Miller had weighed about 290 pounds on the Suns' old scale, but then the team invested in a new, top-of-the-line model. When Miller returned from a road trip and stepped onto the new scale—Holy Toledo! Three-two-three!—Sun management suspected that Miller must have somehow been cheating the old scale. "The story I heard was he'd been standing on his toes," a Piston front-office man confides. Big O was wounded when the slander was repeated. "Isn't that ridiculous?" Miller says. "How am I gonna trick a scale?"
Of course if Miller could trick a scale—Lose weight without diet or exercise!—calorie-counting America would gladly fork over more than the $10 million that Detroit agreed to pay him for the next four years. These days a salary of $2.5 million for an ambulatory center with some semblance of a game isn't extreme by NBA standards. Indeed, when he was given more minutes in Phoenix last season, Miller showed he could produce, upping his scoring average from 5.6 to 9.2 and his rebounds from 4.9 to 6.9 per game. But after two seasons of the Big O the Suns were, if you'll pardon the expression, fed up, and they let him depart via the restricted-free-agent route.
Miller insists the Suns hung him out to dry—see Oliver twist—while letting Charles Barkley carry on with impunity. (Imagine! A double standard for a future Hall of Famer.) But the Big O surely has had more tranquil off-seasons: In May a woman told police that Miller had forced her to have sex with him at a team party after the Suns lost their playoff series with Houston, an allegation that was widely reported. (No charges were filed.) In August, Oliver J. Miller Sr. confessed to a reporter at a Fort Worth TV station to killing Oliver Jr.'s uncle Emmett Allen, a local businessman and community activist whom Oliver Sr. suspected of swindling him out of $100,000 worth of land. (Oliver Sr. is awaiting trial.) The following week, according to a police report, Oliver Jr. grabbed his wife, Christina, around the throat during a domestic quarrel after she accused him of "acting just like your father." (No charges were filed.) Still..."I just don't understand how they can say I'm a bad character," Miller says. "If Jesus himself walked into Phoenix again, the people would probably crucify him or throw him in a dungeon."
The Pistons don't want Miller for community relations, just 25 minutes a night of rebounding, shot blocking and light offense. Miller has soft hands, passes well—he increased his assist average from 2.1 in his rookie year to 3.5 last season—and is remarkably nimble when he's below 300 pounds.
The Big O had checked into food rehab after the scale incident and lost 40 pounds, but Piston coach Don Chaney says he won't hector Miller. The Big O played the preseason in the 290's, and his body-fat percentage was 15.5, down from 18.5 at the start of camp.
"I've always been athletic for my size," Miller says. "Me and my cousins would go to the country, to my grandma's in Teague, Texas, and we'd have our own Olympics. Hundred-yard dash. Hurdle old tires. My cousins were smaller than me, but I'd catch 'em." Miller hopes his next Olympics is indoors in '96. "They've already used up Alonzo [Mourning], Dave [Robinson], all the really great centers," Miller says. "They should be getting around to me for Dream Team III." Why not? Muses Mark West, another center who came from Phoenix to Detroit this summer, "As Charles used to say, 'O could be an All-Star if he learned two words: I'm full.' "
After his promising year, the Big O's bubble burst.